GAINESVILLE, Fla. Trainers have used it for decades to help athletes build muscle. Late-night TV commercials hawk it as an effortless flab buster.
But a University of Florida engineering researcher says electrical stimulation a simple, decades-old technique to prompt muscles to contract can be combined with sophisticated computer learning technology to help people regain more precise, more life-like control of paralyzed limbs.
Although his research is still exploring the fundamentals, his progress so far suggests computer-adapted electrical stimulation could one day help the estimated 700,000 Americans who suffer from strokes and the 11,000 who suffer from cord injuries annually.
"It's an adaptive scheme to do electrical stimulation more efficiently, with less fatigue and more accuracy," said Warren Dixon, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, explaining that existing techniques do little more than apply a set current to a designated muscle.
Stroke victims may be among the first to benefit. Dixon said stroke sufferers who work at regaining the ability to walk often unconsciously drag their toes, causing them to stumble. He said his goal is to develop techniques for a wearable, pacemaker-sized device. The device would deliver just the right stimulation to the calf at just the right moment in a person's gait, lifting the toe just enough to avoid a stumble and walk naturally.
The device would adapt to individuals, adjusting itself to weight, activity and diet, he said. It might even act as a kind of robotic therapist to the patient, guiding him or her in the proper action while very slowly backing off its own electrical input.
Dixon, who has published several papers on his research since receiving a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Development Career Development Program award in 2006, recently authored a paper accepted in the IEEE Transactions on Neural System
|Contact: Warren Dixon|
University of Florida